REVIEW: DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES - THE FLASH
In the 1970's, the action figure world was pretty well ruled by a company known as Mego. It seemed as though they picked up the license to just about everything. DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Wizard of Oz... They even picked up the licenses to produce action figures of some concept that seemed a little less well-suited to the action figure world. Starsky & Hutch, CHiPs -- okay. Happy Days, Dukes of Hazzard -- maybe. The Waltons!? I swear I never understood how they got turned into action figures. I mean, at least the Fonz had a motorcycle...
Mego came up with a solid procedure for producing most of their action figure lines. They created a basic 8" body -- well, several, really, for different genders and such, but each saw multiple uses -- onto which any desired head could be attached, and onto which any costume or clothes could be placed.
This did present a number of interesting crossover opportunities. Since all of the figures were size-and-design compatible with one another, this was really the one and only time when DC and Marvel characters co-existed in the toy world. You could have the crew of the Enterprise beam down to Planet of the Apes, and see what Dr. Zaius thinks of Vulcans, never mind intelligent humans. You could have the Incredible Hulk beat up John-Boy...
Mego did a number of other sizes of figures over the years. They had a 12" line, which was used mostly for super-heroes, Star Trek, and the rock band KISS. They tried smaller figures, but the only real hit here was when they imported Takara's Microman line from Japan and redubbed them Micronauts.
Ultimately, it was their 8" figures that were the foundation of the company, and although Mego no longer exists, they are fondly remembered enough by collectors so that there's an annual Mego collectors' convention, and the founder of Mego, Marty Abrams, has assisted in the establishment of a new company, called EmCe Toys, that has brought back and even expanded upon such licenses as Star Trek and Planet of the Apes.
And then there's the DC Universe. The DC license is solidly in the hands of Mattel these days. However, recognizing that there is a fondness for the action figures of decades past, Mattel created a line known as "DC Retro-Action Super-Heroes", and not only brought out new, retro-style versions of old Mego favorites, but expanded upon it considerably.
The one bizarre thing about some of the Mego lines were the characters that DIDN'T come out. Although their Star Trek line produced a considerable series of cool aliens, they never did the Enterprise crew members Sulu and Chekov. EmCe has since remedied that omission. Their Marvel line produced Conan the Barbarian, a character technically only licensed to Marvel, but omitted certain popular villains like Doctor Doom -- and astoundingly enough relative to today, there wasn't an X-Man to be found. Yes, Virginia, there was no Mego Wolverine.
The DC line was an even greater mystery. The only Superman villain to ever come out in the 8" size was -- Mr. Mxyzptlk?! Batman managed to get most of the major players of his cast of enemies, at least. But even stranger was the fact that while there was a Mego figure of not-quite-top-tier character Green Arrow, there was no sign of more prominent heroes Green Lantern and the Flash.
According to many reliable sources, these WERE in the works. Mego was planning a substantial expansion of their "World's Greatest Super-Heroes" line, which was to Mego one of their strongest, longest-running lines, that would have included the likes of Green Lantern, Flash, Mister Freeze, and on the other side of the fence, Doctor Doom and (for some odd reason) Bruce Banner (yeah, just what I want, a skinny scientist in purple pants), but alas, these never happened. The company didn't survive long enough to see these figures produced.
Mattel was well aware of this. And while their Retro-Action Super-Heroes line did include characters that had been produced by Mego, such as Superman, Batman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman, characters that essentially HAD to be included, and they even offered their take on Green Arrow as an online exclusive, the Retro-Action Super-Heroes line also did a nice job filling in a lot of blanks.
We finally got Lex Luthor (take that, you pudgy, fifth-dimensional imp!). We got Sinestro. We got Green Lanterns like you wouldn't believe, not only Hal Jordan, but John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and Kyle Rayner, who didn't even exist when Mego was around!
And -- we finally got THE FLASH! This review will take a look at the Retro-Action figure of DC's Scarlet Speedster. Obviously, given the time period these figures are supposed to represent, this is the Silver Age Barry Allen Flash. Let's have a look at his backstory, and then have a look at the figure.
The character first appeared in Showcase #4 (Oct. 1956), created by writers Robert Kanigher and John Broome and penciler Carmine Infantino. His death in 1985 during the Crisis on Infinite Earths removed the character from the regular DC lineup for 23 years. His return to regular comics occurred in 2008 within the pages of the Final Crisis limited series.
Born to Henry and Nora Allen, Barry Allen is a police forensic scientist with a reputation for being very slow, deliberate, and frequently late, which frustrates his fiancee, Iris West. One night, as he is preparing to leave work, a lightning bolt shatters a case full of chemicals and spills them all over Allen. As a result, Allen finds that he can run extremely fast and has matching reflexes. He dons a set of red tights sporting a lightning bolt, dubs himself the Flash (after his childhood comic book hero, Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash), and becomes Central City's resident costumed crimefighter.
Central City University professor Ira West (Iris' adoptive father) designed Allen's costume and the ring which stores it while Allen is in his civilian identity. The ring can eject the compressed clothing when Allen needs it and suck it back in with the aid of a special gas that shrinks the suit.
In addition, Allen invented the cosmic treadmill, a device that allowed for precise time travel and was used in many stories. Allen was so well liked that nearly all speedsters that come after him are often compared to him. Batman once said "Barry is the kind of man that I would've hoped to become if my parents hadn't been murdered."
As presented in Justice League of America #9, when the Earth is infiltrated by alien warriors sent to conquer the planet, some of the world's greatest heroes, including the Flash, join forces. While the superheroes individually defeat most of the invaders, they fall prey to a single alien and only by working together are they able to defeat the warrior. Afterwards the heroes decide to found the Justice League of America.
During the years, he is depicted as feeling attracted to Black Canary and Zatanna, but he never pursues a relationship because he feels his real love is Iris West. Allen also becomes good friends with Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), which would later be the subject of the limited series Flash and Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold.
In The Flash # 123 – "Flash of Two Worlds," – Allen is transported to Earth-Two where he meets Jay Garrick, the original Flash in DC Continuity; it is revealed that Jay Garrick's adventures were captured in comic book form on Earth-One. This storyline initiated DC's multiverse and was continued in issues of Flash and in team-ups between the Justice League of America of Earth-One and the Justice Society of America of Earth-Two.
In the classic story from Flash #179 – "The Flash - Fact or Fiction?" – Allen is thrown into the universe eventually called Earth Prime, a representation of "our" universe, where he seeks the aid of the Flash comic book's editor Julius Schwartz to build a cosmic treadmill so that he can return home.
He also gains a sidekick and protoge in Iris' nephew, Wally West, who gains super-speed in an accident similar to that which gave Allen his powers.
In time, he married his girlfriend Iris, who learned of his double identity because Allen talked in his sleep. She kept this secret, and he eventually revealed his identity to her of his own free will. Iris was eventually revealed to have been sent as a child from the 30th century and adopted.
In the 1980s, Flash's life begins to collapse. Iris is murdered by Professor Zoom (a supervillain from the 25th century who had long loved her and been jealous of Allen), and when Allen prepares to marry another woman, Zoom tries the same trick again. Allen stops him, killing Zoom in the process by breaking his neck.
Placed on trial for murder in connection with Zoom's death, Allen is found guilty by the jury. When he is told by a juror, who is being possessed by a mind from the future, that Reverse Flash (who Allen knows to be dead) brainwashed the jury into this verdict, Flash flees his trial. The Flash is then attacked by Reverse Flash, and realizes that the answers to this mystery, and restoring his good name, lie in the future, so the juror uses a time device to send them forward.
They discover that Abra Kadabra was disguised as Reverse Flash to ruin the Flash's good name. Defeating Kadabra, he retreats to the future to be reunited with Iris, having learned that Iris' spirit was in fact drawn to the 30th century, and given a new body (and was in fact the mind inhabiting the juror). The final issue of The Flash ends with Flash and Iris kissing passionately and the caption "And they lived happily ever after... for a while". There are a few references in the final issue (The Flash #350) to the upcoming events, and Flash's impending death.
Following the trial, Allen retires and joins Iris in the 30th century. However, after only a few weeks of happiness, the Crisis on Infinite Earths intervenes, and Allen is captured by the Anti-Monitor and brought to 1985; according to the Anti-Monitor, the Flash was the only being capable of travelling to other universes at will, so the Anti-Monitor could not allow him to stay free. Allen escapes and foils the Anti-Monitor's plan to destroy the Earth with an anti-matter cannon, creating a speed vortex to draw the power in, but dies in the process as the power becomes too much for his body. It has been said that Allen travels back through time and becomes the very same lightning bolt that gives him his powers, but later it is also strongly implied that the soul of Barry resides in the Speed Force, the mystical source and Valhalla open to all dead speedsters, and from which the living ones draw their amazing powers. After Allen's death, Wally West, his nephew and sidekick, up until then known as Kid Flash, takes up the mantle of the Flash.
Iris is pregnant when Allen dies, and she has two children who have super-speed powers, the Tornado Twins, who later meet the Legion of Super-Heroes. In the multiversal variant known as Earth-247, each of her children themselves have children with speed-based abilities. One, Jenni Ognats, grows up to become the Legionnaire XS, while the other, Bart Allen, is born with an accelerated metabolism that rapidly ages him, and is sent back to the 20th century where he is cured by Wally West. He remains there as the superhero Impulse under the tutelage of Max Mercury, and later becomes the second Kid Flash as a member of the Teen Titans. One year after the events of Infinite Crisis, Bart becomes the fourth Flash until he is abruptly killed by his clone Inertia and the Rogues. Wally then retook the identity of the Flash. Bart would later be resurrected as Kid Flash by the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st century to combat Superboy-Prime.
In the fourth issue of Infinite Crisis, Barry Allen comes out from the Speed Force, along with Johnny Quick and Max Mercury, to help his grandson Bart deal with Superboy-Prime, taking the villainous teen with him in the Speed Force. Bart Allen appears wearing Barry Allen's costume in Tokyo near the end of Infinite Crisis #5 to tell the heroes that Superboy-Prime has escaped the Speed Force. Bart again reappears in Infinite Crisis #7 in Barry Allen's costume to combat Superboy-Prime once more.
In Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #6 (2006) (with a portion taking place shortly before Infinite Crisis #5) it is told how Barry spent four years in an alternate Keystone City along with Max Mercury, Johnny Quick, and an alternate Jay Garrick, until he met Bart and Wally West, joining him after the battle against Superboy-Prime. After Superboy escapes, Barry suggests that someone has to absorb the whole Speed Force and cross the dimensional bridge back to Post-Crisis Earth. As Bart volunteers, Barry gives him his suit as a last gift, to keep the Force contained, and stays behind. Wally West did not go because of his wife and kids.
Twenty-three years after his death in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry Allen's essence made a return to the present DC Universe proper in DC Universe #0, preceding his full time return in the pages of writer Grant Morrison's Final Crisis.
DC Universe #0 features an unnamed narrator who initially associates himself with "everything". As the story progresses, he begins to recall his past and association with Justice League members, particularly Hal Jordan and Superman. The lettering in which he speaks to the reader is yellow on backgrounds that are initially black. As the story moves forward, the background slowly begins turning red. In the final pages, the narration boxes feature a yellow lightning bolt. Over time, as he recalls friendships and connections with other people, his mind begins to narrow, remarking "I...know him. I am no longer everything. I am a shaft of light split through a prism". Yet he is still the only one able to see "the shadow falling over everything", in the form of Darkseid. On the final page, the moon appears in front of a red sky, as a yellow lightning bolt strikes diagonally in front of it creating the logo of the Flash, as he remarks "and now I remember". The title of the story is revealed to be "Let There Be Lightning."
A Daily News story released on the same day proclaimed that Barry Allen has returned to life, with issue co-writer Geoff Johns stating, "When the greatest evil comes back to the DC Universe, the greatest hero needed to return."
Barry makes his corporeal return in Final Crisis #2. On the second to last page, Jay Garrick and Wally West feel vibrations to which Jay remarks, "Wally, don't you recognize those vibrations? It can't be... Not after all these years... Not after all this time." On the final page, Barry Allen is seen in hot pursuit of the bullet which kills Orion, outrunning the Black Racer and shouting to Jay and Wally to "Run!"
In 2009, writer Geoff Johns and artist Ethan Van Sciver created The Flash: Rebirth, a 6-issue miniseries bringing Barry Allen back to a leading role in the DC Universe as the Flash, much in the same vein as Green Lantern: Rebirth.
The series begins with the cities of Central and Keystone celebrating the return of, "Central City's Flash", Wonder Woman having used her government contacts to create the story that Barry was in witness protection to account for his resurrection. Avoiding the parades, parties, and other celebrations of his return, Barry instead contemplates why he is alive again. A visit to the Flash Museum and from his friend Hal Jordan is not enough to put his mind at ease as he runs off as the Flash. "I can't be late," he says. When asked by Hal late for what, Flash replies, "For whatever the rest of the world needs me for."
Unfortunately, the new Flash series eventually led into the Flashpoint story, which led into the "New 52", and I refuse to deal with that here.
So, how's the figure? Really very cool, but I'd like to say a few words about the packaging first.
Mattel has done a superb job in replicating the original Mego-style packaging. The figures are presented in a rectangular plastic bubble on a cardboard card, that is mostly a single color, with a red rectangle with bold white and yellow lettering -- just like Mego's original "World's Greatest Super-Heroes" logo, and a series of circles down the front of the card presenting line art of the figures available in that particular assortment. The back of the card presents line art of full figures of the same characters. The cards have as much of a retro feel to them as the figures themselves.
As for the Flash, he's an excellent figure, and it doesn't take too much of a stretch to imagine that this is very much how he would have looked had Mego actually gotten around to him back in the 1970's.
The head has been molded in red plastic, with the eyes, lower face, and wings on the sides of the head painted appropriately. The eyes have very much of a Mego look to them, and the face has a very slight smile to it, much like many of Mego's efforts tended to. For those who might criticize the figure for not being especially intricately detailed, remember what this figure is supposed to be reminiscent of.
Flash's hands have been molded in red, to act as the gloved hands. The costume is a bright red fabric, and has been given a bit of a turtleneck so that it comes up and meets the base of the head. Most of the body underneath the costume is flesh tone, at least if the small portion visible on the back where the snap is located is any indication, and the lower arms under the sleeves. I did not disrobe the figure.
The fabric is similar to what was used on the Mego figures of the 1970's, but it feels a little smother, and perhaps isn't quite as thick. Whether this should be regarded as an improvement or not, I'm not entirely sure.
The costume has the lightning bolt belt, and glove tops, nicely affixed around the waist and lower arms, and of course the Flash's emblem has been secured to the center of the chest. I'm really not entirely sure how this was done, but for the most part, it's a good job. I have noticed that the tips of the lightning bolt on the chest logo aren't as attached as one might hope they'd be. You can see them sort of trying to peel up a bit. However, it should be noted that these figures weren't really designed to be played with -- and I'd also bet that this isn't anything that can't be remedied with the very careful application of a little bit of Glue Stick or something similar.
The Flash, typical of Mego-esque super-heroes, has big plastic boots. However, I am of the opinion that this figure got much fancier boots than he would have if Mego had made this figure in the 1970's. For one thing, they're slightly flexible. Mego's boots were pretty rigid. For another, Mego came up with one basic boot design, pretty much a pointed-top boot, and used it on darn near everybody. Batman, Superman, Green Arrow, Captain America, Captain Marvel -- all they had to do was mold it in different colors. The only figures that I recall in the Mego days that got fancier boots were some of the later Marvel figures -- Falcon, Thor, Conan, and Iron Man -- whose designs really mandated it.
Flash, if he'd been turned out by Mego, probably would've gotten a standard pair of yellow boots. Mattel's retro-Flash has fared somewhat better. Although there's a distinct Mego-esque look to the boots, they do have the wings on the sides, and they also have thick treads on the bottoms.
Those classic Mego-style boots still exist, by the way. They've been remade by a well-known Mego fan and customizer known as "Dr. Mego", and they've turned up on a couple of the Star Trek figures, as well as more recently on BifBangPow's retro-style Battlestar Galactica figures, which were produced in conjunction with EmCe Toys.
Which brings us around to the body design of the Flash. It's not specifically Mego. The rights to that design have been secured by EmCe Toys, and even though some of their personnel did assist Mattel in the development of their DC Retro-Action line, Mattel came up with their own body design. For the most part, it's a good one, and certainly very close to the Mego pattern. My only criticism with it has been that the lower torso piece is a bit narrow, and the hips on the figures a bit wide, or at least wide-looking, as a result, leaving is in this case with a Flash that looks like he needs to trim a bit off his thighs if he wants to hit those light-speeds again.
However, this is a relatively minor criticism on an otherwise very impressive figure that certainly looks very much like what one might have expected to purchase, let's say 35 years ago or thereabouts, had Mego continued their super-hero line.
Of course, Flash is very capably articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees and ankles, although the ankles are hindered by the boots.
So, what's my final word? As of this writing, the Retro-Action Super-Heroes line is at the very least, on hiatus. And I found this Flash through, shall we say, the secondary market. However, Mattel managed to turn out a very generous supply of figures. They made it a point, I believe, to get all seven prominent members of the Justice League produced. That included Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. They also gave us Captain Marvel (Shazam!), prominent in his own right and a previous actual Mego entry, as well as Green Arrow, another previous Mego.
Then, they gave us a whole spate of villains that had never been made before in the 8" Mego size, including Lex Luthor, Two-Face, Cheetah, Sinestro, Captain Cold, and Black Manta -- you'll note all of these were villains of the heroes. Since Martian Manhunter never really had that prominent an individual villain, Mattel decided to produce a Mego-style figure of none other than Darkseid himself, and for Captain Marvel, they turned out Black Adam.
On top of this, they produced a special Green Lantern series, that featured John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, and Sinestro in his modern Sinestro Corps costume.
By my count, that's 21 figures. That's a very healthy collection, really, for figures of this size, complexity, and quality. I don't have a complete collection of them myself (yet), but I'm abundantly pleased with the ones that I have, and since I am old enough to have had a great many Megos when I was a kid (of which only Superman survived), I'm very pleased to have been able to bring in some of Mattel's modern efforts, especially those whom Mego never quite got around to. That certainly includes the Flash, and if you have any taste or memory for Mego-style figures, or just think that retro is cool, then you'll certainly want to add this figure -- and his friends -- to your collection.
The DC RETRO-ACTION SUPER-HEROES figure of THE FLASH definitely has my highest recommendation!